I was so lucky today to meet Susan Thomsen when I knocked at the ivy-draped home just west of the Kennedy. The one the retired Whitney Young High art teacher shares with her husband, Finn. She waltzed me right in and started showing me around their home and studio.
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So what’s to know about this Viking ship of a home just west of the Kennedy?
Knock, knock . . .
Who’s there? Finn and Susan Thomsen (and sometimes their visiting grandchildren; when I visited, it was Jake Madigan)
The back story: Finn Thomsen had sailed around the world 17½ times over 14 years with the Danish Merchant Marines (he joined when he was 14; “school wasn’t really for me,” he says) before anchoring in Chicago. It would be several more years before he would marry Susan and move into this “little cottage” of a house (Susan) filled with “possibilities” (Finn).
Over the years, the couple, both artists – Finn doing mostly sculpture and Susan teaching at Whitney Young High School – also filled it up with photographs, art and furniture made by Finn, turtle skulls and a revolving door of visitors.
So what else is inside? The kitchen is what greets you when you first enter the Thomsens’ home. There, deep-hued wood that could probably tell as many tales as the Thomsens dresses the floor. A long, thin table holds court and swirly metal, wood-topped stools line up on its either side. Finn made them all. The table in 1973 (he didn’t have to pause to whip off the year). The stools from remnants of countertops and culverts used in a restaurant he helped decorate. Soto Estella was its name.
Everywhere you turn, your eye is nabbed by something that sparks questions. A mannequin. Doll heads. Six-foot-tall sculptures. A wasp nest (a wedding present from Susan’s mother. Finn and Susan each got one of their own).
But when you pass a spot for a second time, you realize there are other curiosities you missed before. While examining a lovely sculpture that looked like it might have roots in Oaxaca (but actually was made by their niece), I finally realized that table it was sitting on was a street floodlight. Something Finn “sorta found.” OK, let’s just move on here.
Parting shot: When I finally walked out of the Thomsens’ home, I walked around the end of the house to get a closer look at the large piece of art that adorned the exterior wall and that made me want to knock in the first place. The spools, the dragon’s head. Ah, a Viking ship. Of course. Finn was born in Denmark, near Copenhagen. And he’d sailed the world many times over. Yup, just as the inside matched the outside, the outside matched Finn.